For most people, having blemish-free skin and a glowing complexion is a clear indication of beauty. Unfortunately, for a good number of people, this desire is made almost impossible to achieve with the presence of dark spots on the face or skin.
Hyper-pigmentation, or dark spots as it’s commonly known, is a skin condition that results from an accumulation of dark pigments underneath the skin. This condition can occur on any part of the body and can strike at any given time from your younger days to your golden years. Although dark spots can manifest on all skin colors, they’re most common on black and brown skin due to the high levels of melanin present.
While hyper-pigmentation can be embarrassing, there are many possible treatments that can be used to reduce the appearance of the spots thus allowing you to go about your life with confidence. However, the first step in keeping dark spots under check is to understand what causes them. By knowing the causes of this condition, you’ll be able to choose the right treatments.
What Causes Dark Spots on the Face or Skin?
When the body produces excess amounts of melanin, the pigment is distributed through the 2 layers of the dermis where it then migrates onto the skin’s surface during the ongoing process of the renewal of skin cells. Upon reaching the surface of the skin, the pigment presents itself as patches of dark skin. These patches can be brown, black, or grey.
While all cases of hyper-pigmentation are caused by the over-production of melanin, the abnormal production of this pigment can be triggered by several things including:
- Exposure to the Sun
UV rays tend to trigger the production of melanin. Therefore, staying under the sun for long periods of time without any form of sunscreen can trigger the production of enough melanin to set off patches of dark spots.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the light waves from light bulbs affect the skin in the same way UV rays do.
Also known as age spots, solar lentigines are flat, black, brown, or gray spots that occur on the skin. They usually form when there’s an excess production of skin pigment. These concentrated areas of pigmentation occur as part of the natural aging process or on sun exposed skin. Such dark spots are more likely to appear on areas that receive the most sun exposure such as your face, upper back, shoulders, forearms, and back of the hands.
Solar Lentigines are more common among older people, but can strike people of any age, gender, or race. Other factors that might increase the chances of developing age spots include:
- Having a fair complexion
- Frequent sun exposure
- A history of tanning bed use
Freckles are among the most common causes of dark spots. These small brown spots are usually less than half a centimeter in size and often form on the face or hands. Freckles develop when rays from the sun damage the melanocytes (pigment-producing cells).
Light-skinned people are more likely to develop freckles, especially during summer. However, freckles can occur on anyone, even people with dark skin.
- Body Scrubs
While body scrubs do wonders on the skin, they also cause damage. The rough surfaces of body scrubs are harsh to the skin. So, when these products are overused, they cause skin irritation or inflammation. This kind of damage to the skin increases melanin production, which in turn causes existing dark spots to worsen or triggers the formation of new ones.
In the same way, other factors such as burns and harsh skin care products/treatments, which cause trauma to the skin, can trigger dark spots on the skin. Dark spots formed in this way are usually referred to as Post Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation (PIH).
In many instances, pimples heal and leave behind dark spots. This is because all pimples, whether large or small, place stress on the pores of the skin. This stress causes the body to produce more melanin than it normally would.
The production of melanin is further increased when one starts squeezing or irritating the pimple. When the melanin reaches excessive amounts, dark spots form after the pimples fade off.
Other than acne, other skin conditions such as psoriasis can also lead to the formation of dark spots.
Another cause of dark spots is significant hormonal changes in the body. For instance, women can develop large splotches of dark skin during pregnancy, menopause, or when using birth control pills.
This type of hyper-pigmentation is referred to as melasma and it tends to flare up when one is exposed to the sun. Therefore, you can easily avoid hyper-pigmentation from developing when undergoing hormonal changes by simply using sunscreen or staying away from the sun.
- Some Foods
As crazy as it sounds, simply touching foods that contain psolarens can cause you to develop dark spots. However, this is only if you step out into the sun after handling such foods.
Psolarens is the name of a group of organic chemicals found in foods such as carrots, lemons, celery, turnips, and grapefruits, to name a few. This chemical,makes the skin highly reactive to Ultraviolet light. Therefore, touching foods or applying skin care products that contain psolarens (e.g. citrus products) and then exposing your skin to the sun can lead to very pronounced hyper-pigmentation.
Be sure to avoid psolarens-rich foods and products especially when you’re planning to go out in the sun – or at least make sure to thoroughly wash the exposed skin before heading out.
- Post-Inflammatory Hyper-Pigmentation (PIH)
As the name implies, post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation is a skin condition that follows an inflammatory skin disorder such as acne, bug bites, or psoriasis. Injuries to the skin such as thermal burn can also trigger PIH.
The hyper-pigmented patches usually form at the site of injury or original skin disorder. After the affected spot heals, the dark patch left behind can range from light brown to black in color. The patches can become darker when exposed to UV rays from sunlight.
Mild cases of post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation are mostly temporary but take a long time to clear up. On the other hand, more severe trauma to the skin can cause permanent dark spots.
How to Get Rid of Dark Spots on Face or Skin with Simple Home Remedies
If you happen to be suffering from hyper-pigmentation, the good news is the spots do not last forever. When left alone, dark spots fade away with time. The bad news, however, is that it takes several years for dark spots to fade off naturally.
If you do not want to wait for years for your skin to clear up, there are many home remedies that can be used to lighten dark spots. Some of the best and safest of these remedies are discussed below.
- Start with an Exfoliation Cleanse
Exfoliation is the process of removing old dead cells from the skin’s surface in order to expose new skin. You can try this method to remove melanocytes that have appeared closer to the epidermis. This method is likely to work if you have only had dark spots for a month or two.
You might be able to get rid of the pigment producing cells that are close to the top few layers of your skin by simply exfoliating the affected spot.
How to Exfoliate Dark Spots:
Visit your local pharmacy or beauty care store and ask for a micro bead exfoliating facial cleanser that contains tiny particles. This will help to gently scrub the skin and take off dead cells from the top layer.
You can also make your own exfoliator by mixing ground raw almonds, pumice, salt crystals, sugar, crushed volcanic rock or ground oatmeal into your regular cleanser.
- Before you begin the exfoliation process, rinse your face or the affected area with warm water to open up skin pores.
- Apply the exfoliate to your gloves or loofah then scrub the dark spots in a circular motion. Remember to be gentle when working on your face, especially around sensitive areas such as around the eyes and mouth. Use a body brush or microfiber cloth to exfoliate hard to reach places on your back.
- Rinse the exfoliated areas with lukewarm water and pat it dry. Apply body moisturizer after exfoliating to keep the skin soft.
Try Electric Exfoliation
Manual exfoliants such as scrubs, microfiber cloths and sponges do a great job of removing dead cells on the skin’s surface. However, if you need something extra to exfoliate deeper into the skin, electric exfoliators can achieve better results than your standard exfoliating cleanser.
There are several electrical modalities that assist in exfoliation, some of which include micro-dermabrasion and ultrasonic electrical exfoliating machines. Most of these electrical salon and domestic exfoliation machines use adjustable suction systems to vacuum up loose and dead cells from the skin. You can buy these appliances from online stores that specialize in beauty care products.
- Aloe Vera Gel
Featuring analgesic, anti-inflammatory, skin soothing, and antiseptic qualities, aloe vera offers one of the best ways of dealing with all sorts of skin problems ranging from rashes, to burns, to dark spots.
In the case of hyper-pigmentation, aloe vera deals with the skin condition by encouraging the skin to generate new cells. With new skin cells being formed, older dark-spot infested cells are eradicated, leaving behind clear, blemish-free skin.
Aloe vera also features moisturizing capabilities. Therefore, in addition to helping eliminate dark spots, aloe vera nourishes your skin making it healthy and beautiful.
When using aloe vera gel to get rid of dark spots, you can apply the gel directly onto your spots or make a homemade skin mask using aloe, tomato juice, lemon juice, papaya pulp, or honey.
If you choose to make a ski mask:
- Mix equal measures of aloe gel and whichever second ingredient you choose. For instance, an aloe-honey mask should contain a mixture of 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel and 2 tablespoons honey.
- Avoid leaving the mask on for more than 20 minutes and only rinse off with plain water.
Regular use of aloe vera gel/mask will start to show results within 2 to 3 weeks. However, this is only if you’re using 100% pure aloe vera gel.
The best source for hyper-pigmentation aloe gel is freshly squeezed gel directly from an aloe plant. Most packaged aloe vera gels contain added ingredients that will interfere with the gel’s ability of eliminating dark spots.
- Lemon/Lime Juice
Both lime and lemon are loaded with citric acid, which is a common ingredient in skin care products due to its great benefits. Citric acid helps remove dead cells and stimulates the growth of new cells thus giving you healthier lighter skin.
This skin lightening benefit of citric acid helps to alleviate a variety of skin problems ranging from dark spots to acne scars and even uneven skin tone. Additionally, lemon and lime contain vitamin C, which also has the ability of lightening dark spots.
Using lemon/lime juice to treat dark spots is very easy and only requires you to:
- Squeeze out the juice of a fresh lemon/lime.
- Dip a cotton ball into the juice and rub it directly on the affected areas.
- Allow the juice to stay on the skin for about 10 minutes and rinse off with water.
Lemon/lime juice is highly effective and can deliver noticeable results in just 2 weeks of daily application. Unfortunately, this home remedy option is not for everyone due to the acidic nature of these 2 fruits.
When applied to sensitive skin, citric acid can cause tingling sensations, reddening of the skin, slight burning on the skin, or other skin irritations. As mentioned earlier, irritations to the skin trigger increased production of melanin and this can worsen existing dark spots. Therefore, make sure to test the effects of citric acid on your skin before applying it onto the dark spot affected areas.
Note: Onion juice can be used in place of lime/lemon juice. Similar to lemons and lime, onions are also acidic in nature. Therefore, the juice of an onion acts as a natural bleaching agent, which works as a homemade dark spot corrector.
Another great natural remedy for getting rid of dark spots is tomato. Tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants, which are well known for their skin nourishing benefits. These antioxidants help get rid of dark spots in 2 effective ways:
- Firstly, the antioxidants increase blood flow to the scared skin tissue thus lightening the look of the spots.
- Secondly, the antioxidants stimulate blood flow in the skin, which in turn encourages the growth of new cells.
With continued use, the antioxidants in tomatoes will completely eliminate dark spots from your skin. Any other anti-oxidant rich foods such as green tea and oats, will work just as well as tomato.
When using tomatoes, you can simply apply tomato slices onto your dark spots and leave them on for 15 minutes before rinsing with water.
Alternatively, you can make this home remedy option even more effective by:
- Mixing half a teaspoon of tomato juice with a teaspoon of honey or any of the other mentioned home remedies.
- Apply the mixture onto affected skin, leave it for 15 minutes, and then wash off.
Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which gradually reduces skin pigmentation while brightening and toning your overall complexion. This acid also helps to slough off dead skin cells thus reducing the appearance of spots on the skin.
Using buttermilk is as simple as applying it directly on hyper-pigmentation affected skin, leaving it on for 10 to 15 minutes and then rinsing off with water.
Since buttermilk is available in most grocery stores, you’ll not have to prepare it yourself. However, if you prefer to make your own buttermilk, these are the steps to take:
- Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of low fat milk.
- Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 15minutes and you will have yourself a cup of fresh buttermilk.
Papain, the enzyme in papaya has several properties that make it an excellent remedy for getting rid of dark spots. This enzyme exfoliates skin, stimulates the growth of new cells, and best of all, it inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which is used by pigment-producing skin cells to create melanin.
So, not only does papaya aid in the fading of dark spots, it also puts a stop to the future development of new dark spots.
When using papaya to clear dark spots, you have the option of either applying papaya pulp or dabbing the juice of the fruit directly onto affected skin. Just like the other remedies, allow the papaya pulp/juice to stay for a few minutes before rinsing it off.
Potatoes contain several nutrients that are beneficial to the skin. These include vitamins C and B-complex, essential fatty acids, and the minerals zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium.
Thanks to this combination of nutrients, potatoes have an amazing potential of lightening skin, exfoliating skin, and evening out skin tone. These properties combined make potatoes yet another great choice for eliminating dark spots.
Potatoes can be applied in 2 ways:
- Slice up your potatoes, place the slices directly onto your dark spots, leave them on for 10 to 15 minutes, and then rinse off your skin with warm water.
- Grate a few potatoes, extract the juice, apply it to your spots, and leave it for 15 minutes before washing off with water. When using this option, you can also add a small amount of lemon juice or honey.
The above-discussed home remedies offer the best ways to get rid of dark spots. However, they are not the only available options. Other home remedies that you can use include:
- Almond Oil
Contains a combination unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and phytosterols that even out the skin tone giving dark spots a lighter appearance.
Circumin, the active ingredient in turmeric gives this spice antioxidant properties that assist in the elimination of dark spots.
The pulp of watermelon contains several nutrients that help reduce sun damaged skin spots.
Medical Treatments for Dark Spots
When natural remedies fail, chances are your dark spots need a more effective form of treatment. This is especially if you have had your dark spots for a while. Some good medical treatments to go for include:
Dermabrassion is a skin resurfacing procedure that’s used to treat or remove a variety of skin blemishes including scars, wrinkles, uneven skin tone, skin patches, dark spots, and even tattoos.
A dermabrassion session usually entails running a rapidly rotating device over the skin. This device is fitted with fine crystals that shed off the outer layers of skin eradicating all blemishes that are being treated (dark spots in this case).
For dermabrassion to deliver satisfactory results, you’ll need to go for monthly sessions over a period of several months.
When dermabrassion is done properly, a new, fresh layer of smoother and usually younger looking skin grows in place of the skin that was removed. However, when done improperly, dermabrassion can result in all sorts of skin irritations including scaring, darkening of the skin, and inflammation. Therefore, if you choose to go with this treatment option, make sure your sessions are done by an experienced practitioner.
- Laser Treatment
When your dark spots have been there for a year or longer, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy (or laser treatment as it’s commonly known) is the best way to go. This is because dark spots move deeper into the skin as they grow older and therefore require a more aggressive form of treatment.
As the name suggests, IPL therapy uses quick pulses of light that reach deep into the skin and destroy dark-spot causing melanin. When these pulses of light are focused on the skin, the pigmented areas absorb the light and shatter or vaporize. The body then triggers a healing process that causes the shattered spots to form a scab and grow new, fresh, unpigmented skin.
The only downsides to laser treatment are that the therapy is expensive and can be slightly painful.
- Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are chemical solutions that smooth the texture of your skin as well as fade dark spots and other skin conditions such as scars, freckles, and acne. When applied on the skin, these peels remove the damaged outer layer of the skin, which paves the way for the development of new healthy skin.
While chemical peels are mostly used one the face, you can also find options for the skin, hands, and neck.
Since these peels usually come in 3 levels of strength (light, medium, and deep), it’s wise to talk to a doctor before purchasing any chemical peel product. Not only will your doctor help you determine the ideal strength for you, he or she will also prescribe a quality chemical peel option.
Cyrotherapy is a form of treatment that’s used to treat a variety of diseases and disorders, with the most common applications being in the treatment of skin conditions such as warts, moles, skin tags, and solar keratoses.
Cyrotherapy usually entails injecting liquid nitrogen into the skin. In the case of treating hyper-pigmentation, the nitrogen freezes tissues at a cellular level and therefore destroys the extra pigment.
This freezing of tissues can be done on a single dark spot or on a small grouping of dark spots. As the treated area heals, dark spots become lighter. Although effective, cyrotherapy presents a few concerns. The treatment may result in temporary skin irritation or leave a patient with permanent scarring or discoloration.
- Topical Acid Treatments
Acid treatments can come in the form of Alpha Hydroxyl acids, Beta Hydroxyl acids, or Retinols. Applied directly on dark spots infested skin, these acids help to get rid of hyper-pigmentation by removing the top layer of dead skin cells to allow for the growth of fresh, spot-free skin. Although these options are available over the counter, it’s wise to talk to a doctor first before purchasing acid treatments and self-medicating.
One important factor to keep in mind when dealing with hyper-pigmentation is that the pigment in dark spots embeds itself deeper into the skin as time passes, making it difficult to lighten or eliminate the spots.
Therefore, make sure to start using whichever home remedy/treatment option as soon as you notice the appearance of dark spots on your skin. The earlier you start, the easier and quicker it will be to get rid of those dark blemishes on your face or skin.